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Mexico to shun French festival over Cassez row

Video by Inès OLHAGARAY , Helen PERCIVAL

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2011-02-15

Mexican authorities have announced they will boycott a French festival celebrating Mexican culture after French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the event should be dedicated to Florence Cassez, a Frenchwoman convicted of kidnapping in Mexico.

It’s been a long time in the planning, but a year-long French festival celebrating Mexican culture is now being boycotted by a very high-profile guest: the Mexican government.

Mexican officials said on Monday that they would not be participating in the “Year of Mexico in France” amid simmering tension over the conviction of a Frenchwoman, Florence Cassez, on kidnapping charges.

The ostensible reason behind Mexico’s decision is French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s recent comment that the festival should be dedicated to Cassez.

Mexico-France spat celebrated as Mexican show of defiance, reports Ioan Grillo from Mexico

Sarkozy's move prompted strong criticism from Mexico, as did comments made last week by his foreign minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie, who claimed Cassez had been the victim of a "denial of justice" that would "weigh on bilateral relations" between the two countries.

Mexico “will not allow its artists and creators, or its businessmen and other participants in this programme, to be exposed” to the uproar over the Cassez case, the Foreign Relations Department’s statement read. “Regrettably the government of Mexico will not be able to participate in the activities [of the festival],” it added.

Politics and culture collide

It remains to be seen what direct impact the Mexican government’s absence will have on the “Year of Mexico” proceedings, which kicked off last week. The festival consists of over 300 exhibitions, concerts and other cultural events scheduled throughout 2011.

Press contacts for the festival did not offer any comment or further information. At Paris’s Museum of Modern Art, which is hosting an exhibition dedicated to Mexican artists in June, a communication officer would only offer that “it was too early to comment”.

France 24's Ioan Grillo reports on the Florence Cassez affair from Mexico City, Mexico

But according to FRANCE 24’s Laurence Cuvillier, “the decision took everyone by surprise” and has “made headlines in Mexico”.

Diplomatic ties between France and Mexico have frayed over the five-year Florence Cassez case, with tensions coming to a boil last week when an appeals court upheld the Frenchwoman’s conviction and 60-year prison sentence. Cassez’s lawyer and French authorities say the case has been rife with abuses, but the Mexican government insists that she is guilty and that sufficient evidence has been provided.

Serving 60 years in Mexico: the Cassez case

Interviewed by FRANCE 24, Florence Cassez’s lawyer, Franck Berton, said he was “dumbfounded” by Mexico’s pulling out of the festival. He also said it was an inappropriate mixing of politics and culture, and that the Mexican authorities were misguided in their decision: “If there are some references to Florence in the festival, that’s one thing,” he noted. “But this was supposed to be a valorisation of Mexican art and culture.”

Cassez was arrested in 2005, and has acknowledged that she lived at a ranch where the kidnap victims were kept. But she has maintained that she was only dating one of the Mexicans arrested in the case and did not know the people living at the ranch had been kidnapped, a position that contrasts with testimony from kidnap victims allegedly implicating Cassez.

The case became a hot-button issue in France when Mexican police admitted they had staged Cassez’s arrest and the liberation of the hostages at the ranch for TV cameras. It turned out that Cassez had actually been arrested one day earlier.

The rift between the two countries deepened in 2009 when Sarkozy asked Mexican President Felipe Calderon to allow Cassez to serve out her sentence in France. The request was denied despite the Strasbourg Convention of 1983, which allows for the transfer of sentenced prisoners.

Date created : 2011-02-15

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